Tried and trusted get nod
After months of speculation Mick McCarthy was as good as his word when it came to naming his World Cup squad yesterday. Loyalty has been the Republic of Ireland manager's constant theme and this has been amply reflected in the 23-man squad that will board the plane to Japan on Friday week. Emmet Malone reports
The squad was duly handed out yesterday morning in Dublin and the list, as it turned out, contained nothing that could be even vaguely described as a surprise. As McCarthy had suggested, contributing to the team's qualification was a prerequisite for inclusion.
Some clearly did more than others but of those included only third choice goalkeeper Dean Kiely failed to play some part in the 12-match campaign while the three minutes or so combined that Andy O'Brien managed in his appearances against Estonia and Holland either side of last summer seem to have been enough to guarantee his spot on the plane.
Of course, O'Brien's real impact has been made more recently, during the Premiership campaign at Newcastle where he has been in excellent form. The two halves he has played against the Russians and Americans since Christmas also helped his cause. If the latter had counted for much, however, then Colin Healy might well have been included at the expense of Everton's Lee Carsley.
Over the course of yesterday's press conference, McCarthy once again alleged that the media had written the three build-up games off as being meaningless when the irony is that he is himself the one who appears guilty of doing just that if his selection is anything to go by.
Up until last week Healy, Gary Doherty, Stephen Reid and Rory Delap must all have harboured faint hopes of making the cut but after McCarthy's comments to the effect that he had already chosen his 23 prior to the game against the US none can have been remotely surprised when they received calls on Monday from the manager.
Healy again stood out during much of that game in a way that Carsley never really has for Ireland while Doherty did as much as could have been asked from him after such a long lay-off when he came on. Delap and Reid may have done less well but as it turns out it mattered not. McCarthy delayed giving any of them the bad news for another few weeks but the Everton midfielder was called within days of the game to reassure him that he would travel despite the widespread praise being heaped on the 21-year-old from Ballincollig.
Yesterday McCarthy again persisted with the line that he could not see how any of the players who had helped the team this far could have since become surplus to requirements. By doing so he has shown himself to be more conservative and much less ruthless than his predecessor Jack Charlton who used the friendly programme prior to USA'94 as a trawling opportunity after which he opted to bring new arrivals Phil Babb, Jason McAteer and the then 19-year-old Gary Kelly to America with him for the finals.
The beneficiaries of McCarthy's approach, meanwhile, include not only Carsley but also long-time McCarthy favourite Mark Kennedy who managed just two starts over the course of the 12 games and whose ability to shake off a troublesome groin problem remained in doubt even yesterday as he consulted a specialist about it. David Connolly, too, has a good deal to be thankful for given the quality of his performances, and particularly his finishing, during the qualifiers. Both must have been fairly confident that they would be amongst the travelling party given the signals that have been sent out by the man who was selecting it. If they had been harbouring any doubts at all then they must have been relieved when the full extent of McCarthy's conviction on the question of loyalty was revealed during one of the press conferences in the build-up to the American game.
Some people suggested, he noted, that loyalty could be a weakness as well as a strength. For him, however, it had only ever been a positive thing, something that had always been rewarded by those to whom he had shown it.
The coming weeks should provide the greatest test yet for some of those who have benefited most on this particular occasion.